NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday a petition filed by the managing committee of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi challenging the survey of its premises ordered by a local court last week based on a plea that alleged the existence of Hindu deities inside the mosque located next to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.
The petition was mentioned on Friday by the mosque committee before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana that refused to order status quo as it was yet to read the petition. The top court had then assured the lawyers appearing for the mosque that the case will be listed after going through the matter.
The matter will now be taken up on Tuesday by a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and PS Narasimha.
The appeal has been filed by Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee that manages the Gyanvapi mosque, against an April 21 order of the Allahabad high court allowing the survey of the mosque premises along with videography to be conducted by advocate commissioner Ajai Kumar Mishra.
As the high court allowed the survey to go on, Varanasi civil judge on May 12 directed a day-to-day survey of the mosque complex that includes inspection, videography, and collection of evidence on the claimed existence of Hindu deities inside the mosque. The order came on a suit filed jointly by five Hindu women.
The mosque committee’s lawyer Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi has argued that the suit pending before the civil court is barred by the provisions of the Places of Worship Act, 1991 and is an attempt to disturb communal peace and harmony.
This law, introduced on July 11, 1991, placed a status quo retrospectively on the character of places of worship as existing on August 15, 1947. Only the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya was kept out of the purview of this law.
The 1991 law received the approval of the five-judge bench in the Ayodhya verdict of 2019 when the judges said, “In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future.”
The 2019 Ayodhya verdict further spelt out that the Places of Worship Act is a legislative intervention which preserves “non-retrogression” as an essential feature of our secular values.
As per the mosque committee’s plea, the mosque enjoys protection under the 1991 law. This fact was mentioned on Friday by senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi who mentioned the appeal before the top court.
The petitioners further told the top court in its appeal that the present suit filed by five women is a “via media” to skirt the stay ordered by the high court in September 2021 relating to a 1991 suit where the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was to conduct a survey. The committee said that its application for dismissal of the suit has to be decided before ordering inspection.
The court commissioner Ajai Kumar Mishra was appointed by the Varanasi court on April 8 allowing videography of the entire proceedings. This order was unsuccessfully challenged by the masjid committee before the Allahabad high court leading to the April 21 order.
On Thursday last, the Varanasi court added two more lawyers – Vishal Singh and Ajay Pratap Singh to assist Mishra and directed the survey team the right to collect evidence from any part of the mosque complex and submit a report by Tuesday.
The civil court judge ordered that the team of commissioners should not be stopped by anyone and made the Varanasi district magistrate and police commissioner personally accountable to extend all cooperation to ensure compliance of its order. The court also authorised the district officials and police to break open any lock, if required and to lodge FIR against anybody who creates impediment in the exercise by the court commissioners.
The article was originally published here